A year ago I walked out of a job I had for 5 years as a server. I had seniority, the best shifts, I was middle management. I could make 500 dollars in a weekend. But, it crept up on me. I had been in the industry almost ten years by accident. I never belonged there.
In fact, looking back at my life, there have been times I was so shy I couldn’t order a pizza over the phone. My cheeks would turn blood red if almost anyone talked to me. Forget the butterflies, we’re talking fish in the troll. Lump in my throat. I was so awkward I couldn’t connect with hardly anyone, leaving basic conversation a mirror-talk dream.
So how did I become successful as a server, someone who has to be outgoing and positive, seamless and well-spoken?
I failed. A lot.
Though, to be honest, I was already so well-versed in humiliation and failure it kind of didn’t bother me. I went to almost 25 schools. I was always new, you know the rest. In high school, I moved in with my dad to a small town in West Virginia. He had a farm we all worked on there. The nearest Walmart was 45 minutes away in any direction, to put it in perspective, which was definitely a culture shock to me having just come from Austin.
And I was a culture shock to them as well. I had crazy red hair and a metal spiked collar, fairy wings and a tiara. They grew up in the bible belt. I was not widely accepted. Though, I will say, I found a few good ones on the way and by the end of four years I was voted into the running for homecoming queen and received the “most unique” superlative. I took that to mean that they definitely thought I was weird but oddly enough accepted and respected that. Breakthrough.
Living on the farm was definitely not easy. I woke up at 4:30 every morning. That was really just to catch the bus on time because the ride to school was over an hour and the walk to the bus stop was half a mile. I would smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, smoke a bowl on the way to the bus. Not too bad. When I got home from school, I’d walk back and work. I never was able to attend any school functions. I never really went to anyone’s house because I didn’t have a car, and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere until all the work and chores for the day were done. Which is fine but I had little to no social life outside of school.
The day I graduated, I actually did end up at a friend’s house afterward. I called Dad, said can I spend the night. We had a bunch of tomatoes to get in the field (yes, a field- 1 of 3 at that). He said he wouldn’t come get me from her house, that I needed to get there or find a place to live. No shit.
I was still seventeen for another month and a half. I got my friend to help me get my stuff out of their house the next day. I cried because of the weight lifted off of my chest as we drove away. I’ll never forget the way the farm looked out the back window of Chase’s little red car.
Little did I know, the hard stuff was just beginning. Because I had no social life, I had almost no one to stay with. A lot of people I did know were still living with their parents and couldn’t offer me a place. I had to go on my instinct and intuition about people, walk into new town meet people, try to find places to stay. Sometimes I couldn’t, or got weird vibes. I slept outside many times.
I also lived in a place with very few opportunities, being a rural area. So, I went door to door trying to find work in town areas. Which is absolutely fucking stupid. But I was lucky, and I made cash, survived. By that fall, though, I was still not finding any solid work or places to stay. I had received a scholarship for full tuition paid to an in-state school. I took my grungy ass up to the nearest university in a somewhat populated area. They had a walmart, you know.
I failed the entire semester. I started off really good, but I had started drinking heavily since leaving Dad’s and it spiraled while I was in school. I had a few supporters, but mostly there wasn’t anyone there to help keep me in check and I couldn’t help myself at the time.
So, I was homeless again without the dorm. I serendipitously(lol) met and started staying on my friend Amanda’s couch after a party she had there. She had a car and was a few years older than me. She lived on the mountain in a garage apartment next to her parents. She helped me get a job at crapplebee’s because she worked there at the time and we rode together.
So I kind of had no choice in the matter. I needed money to help out and move on. That was the job I could get. So, I took it. And like I said, I sucked. Even though I had overcome a lot of barriers having to go door to door and basically do cold calls for myself, I made no money because I couldn’t just talk about the fucking weather. If I made anything it was because they were impressed with how fast I was running. But my friend understood, she was and still is just an amazing person.
After a few months, I started getting it and made better money, then great money after I finally learned how to talk to people a couple years later.
I kept thinking, I’ll make this money, I’ll get a car. When I get the car, I’ll make more money, then I’ll get the place. That ended up taking me years to accomplish. Of course, there were many jobs along the way and couches lost and won. I finally buckled down after getting the place and promised myself I would not quit this job no matter what. And for five years, I waited for a promotion that I never got.
In fact, I was married to someone who most of my co-workers and all of my managers knew personally because, well, it’s a small town. I imagine this is why my hours were cut down to nothing after we were divorced. I got the worst closing section. I made fifty dollars a week. I have a child I am responsible for. I had my own apartment, all my own bills. The shelter gave us Christmas. I spent every dime I had and didn’t have paying bills.
I started getting very angry. Why were they passing me over for the promotion when I deserved it? Why were they cutting my hours when I went out of my way to tell the scheduling manager that I had an eviction notice and can’t even get my son a tree to look at? Apparently, she didn’t care.
One night I was working, and I had been there for ten hours- I came in early for someone else hoping to make more money. Unfortunately, at the end of the ten hours my sales were at 220. That’s right. Two hundred and twenty dollars. I had made 25 dollars that night. People don’t tip as much when it’s slow. It was always slow right then, because we are an interstate town next to a ski resort. So, when ski season never came… neither did the customers.
Management didn’t want to see us all there getting fat and playing on our phones so they were making us clean.
Let me explain something about the restaurant industry. As a server at MOST establishments, and ALWAYS corporate casual, you make 2 dollars an hour. Two dollars an hour that they take for your taxes, unless you’re not making ANY money (like, less than minimum wage with the 2 dollars and your tips). Restaurants have such a high turn over rate because it actually is a hard, at times unreliable, and stressful job. Aside from the obvious shittiness of dealing with the public when they are in control of your pay, the management is usually kind of ruthless.
If you miss a shift, unless you’re a veteran at the place or have an amazing reason, you will probably be fired- if not that time, the next. In most places, you can get a discount for yourself if you eat on the clock, on your break. If you break those rules, you can be written up and fired. I worked at a place I legitimately witnessed someone getting fired for eating a breadstick they didn’t pay for. Then you have the cleaning days. You are supposed to clock in at minimum wage, at least. Ok. This does not happen for the front of the house. You clean for free, basically. No manager will tell you to do it, but it’s one of those things that just happens and it hasn’t mattered which restaurant I’ve worked at it the same. You have an opportunity to make a lot of money if you’re a hustler, so they influence you to deal with it.
And you do! If I made 150 dollars that night, I don’t mind to sit there and do 2 hours of cleaning before going home. But, this night… I had made 25 dollars. I had been making 25 dollars. I couldn’t pay for anything, I was stressed. And even though we could have walked out of that restaurant at midnight when it closed because all the closing cleaning was done, we stayed until 3am, turning my shift into 13 hours, dusting ceiling tiles for 2 dollars an hour.
The next night was the same, except later on we got a pop. I had 5 tables at 10:30, all in different stages of their meals. I was so excited to be making some money! Everyone had taken their break but me. That’s another thing management only enforces once in a while. You are supposed to take a break every 5 hours, and no manager will tell you not to. They will either be strict about taking one or leave it up to you. Well, this manager in particular was trying to get the GM position(thus, all the cleaning, etc) that had already been awarded to her rival(it’s ok to laugh), she said I needed to go on break. I begged her. She said no. So, as it is supposed to be done, I transferred all 5 of my tables to the other servers, who get to keep the money off of it, and walked into the kitchen. I was hungry and pissed off.
There was a salad there that had sat so long that the cheese was sweaty and the lettuce was wilted. It’s called “dead” in the industry. One of the cooks on fry-side had accidentally dropped too many pretzels for an order, and they were old enough to beat someone’s face in with.
I took the pretzel batons and placed them on the sweaty salad. The manager walks into the kitchen. She says, verbatim,”What the fuck is this?” Laughing my fucking ass off, I say- it’s my food. It’s dead, we can’t sell it. She says, “Oh, you can eat it when I see a receipt.”
I fucking lost it people. I ran over to the plate, yanked it out of her hand, threw it in the trash, and told her to run my cash out. Because I quit. And, yes, I’m fucking sure.
It occurred to me afterwards that had I continued to work for myself instead of someone else for the last 10 years, I would probably be doing a lot better. I promised myself right then I would never work that hard for anyone ever again, unless it was for me.
So, the last year has been about finding that path. I’ve had 3 more jobs out of necessity, but none of them lasted because of one unforseen reason or another. To a point that I am convinced that I will find a way to work for myself and survive, and then some. Give something to my sons.
So yeah. I’m a huge fucking failure, but I have this weird thing where I never give up so I don’t need hope. I’ll continue to try to find the right direction and know I will succeed.
December 1st, 2016
One year later.